Indochina with Selective Asia – Chapter 7: Siem Reap

The Microlight and the Ox Cart

I was posing with my Silver Travel bag before my maiden microlight flight thinking “what have you got yourself into now”. This was way outside my comfort zone but Eddie (my American pilot) told me he’ll take care of everything, connect my headset, put on my helmet etc. Microlight and bagThen we were off, “we get to 45mph and then lift off” says Eddie and it’s amazing how quickly the ground drops away when you lift off in a go cart with a propeller on the back. In all honesty the jitters only lasted for 30 seconds, Eddie clearly knows what he’s doing and has thousands of hours in the air and gently talked me thorough what was going on. By this time I was in ‘absolutely thrilled’ mode and admiring the Angkor temples from a unique perspective and they all look a bit tiny from 750 feet up. As well as great views of the countryside and great air conditioning from the big fan behind me, we also spotted a trail that was possibly the route the stones took from the mountains to build these majestic temples. 25 mins in the air was overall too soon and although the ground comes up just as fast as it had dropped away, a smooth landing meant that it was Linda’s turn to take my place. She’s braver than me because she doesn’t like heights but did it anyway and in the end thought it was as magnificent an experience as I did.

Although it didn’t seem that big from the sky, on the ground the 1.5 by 1.3 km compound that constitutes the largest religious building in the world, is well, big. Angkor WatAngkor Wat’s 5 principle towers, representing the five peaks of Mount Meru, is the profile that graces the Cambodian flag and countless photos but still retains its wow factor when you see it up close and personal for the first time. The beauty of it is only enhanced when you add its mirror image reflected in the water. Built by King Suryavarman II in the early 12 century, moving the stones to the site must have made it a logistical, as well as building wonder of its time. We were awed again at Angkor Thom where 54 demons fight it out with 54 gods in a representation of the legend of the churning of the ocean of milk. 54 towers are decorated with 215 giant faces of Avalokiteshvara, that smile to acknowledge our open jaws of appreciation.

AvalokiteshvaraMan and monkey exist harmoniously here, with young boys (monks in training) from the close by monastery, shrieking with delight as the younger monkeys chase them through the temple. Some of the Buddha-shaped monkeys are clearly being over fed by the tourists though. Whilst many of the carvings in other temples have faded as the sandstone has eroded, at Banteay Srei the harder stone with the pinkish hue mean that the intricate carvings are still simply beautiful. The name means citadel of woman, so I walked a respectful distance behind Linda throughout our tour (what a humble soul I am). Ta Prohm reminded us that nature can never be underestimated and, left to its own devices, will claim back these man made intrusions into the jungle. Enormous roots from the Spung tree envelope and strangle some of the stonework and penetrate the walls, ready to reclaim this site back to Mother Nature. Buddha monkeyParakeets screech warnings from the branches of the trees that this temple will be lost if humans are not vigilant. When we thought we could be amazed no further our attentive guide Sarorn pulled a rabbit out of the hat. He set up a sunset picnic complete with Cambodian Champagne (Angkor Beer) beside Srah Srang the expansive royal bathing pool. Not another tourist in sight, just the locals herding their cows back home and fishermen casting their nets in the orange glow. Cheers to Khmer genius past and present.

As far from microlight flying as you can imagine, our next experience of Cambodian transport was to rumble through the countryside on an ox drawn cart. It was a beautiful experience, watching the pelican like birds plucking snails from the rice stalks in the paddy fields and locals going about their agricultural business. Interesting and peaceful though this cart ride was, I couldn’t help giving thanks to Mr Goodyear and the other gods of the pneumatic type. Thank goodness I don’t have to travel on this bone rattling mode of wooden wheel transportation all the time. Before the ride we had collected some fresh produce from the market at Krabei Real where I was viciously assaulted by two fish that refused to stay in their bowl and jumped out to nibble my ankles. Srah SrangThe produce was expertly converted into delicious local dishes by the family who had agreed to share their home with us that day. As well as a warm welcome, they shared insights into how life was lived in the villages. Their delightful 13 year old daughter practiced her English on us whilst we were sitting in the shade under their house on stilts. It’s here that she also teaches English to the younger children of the village (bright girl). Our hosts are survivors of the time of Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge and clearly appreciate and savour every minute of their life now those dark times are over. They are particularly delighted to be following a local tradition and looking after their 5 year old granddaughter full time, whilst their eldest son and his wife focus on her pregnancy and looking after the baby when it arrives. What an absolute treat to spend time with this lovely family and a fitting end to our Cambodian adventure as we head to Laos.

Silver Travel Advisor recommends Selective Asia

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Steve Aldridge

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